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A taste of Spain

by Archives March 22, 2006

There may be no Mariachi band, and outside it may be icy and cold, but a unique little Spanish enclave in the heart of the Plateau will make you forget which side of the Atlantic ocean you are on.

Jose Lopez is one of the owners of Pintxo, a Spanish restaurant that introduces a new twist on tapas. Pintxo is the basque word for tapas. “Pintxo is similar to tapas, but they are a little smaller and the specialties are a little different,” said Lopez. “Pintxo is Northern Spain’s version of tapas.”

Lopez has been a part of the Spain-Montreal connection for many years. “I was involved with Casa Tapas, and am also a part of Sala Espagnol on St-Laurent,” said Lopez. Pintxo is his newest undertaking, and has drawn a lot of attention and success since its opening in April 2005.

Spanish wines line the walls. An abstract and colourful painting of a bull hangs from the exposed brick. The tables adorned in crisp white linen contrast with the wooden chairs upholstered in terra cotta cloth. Spicy and delicious smells emanate from the kitchen.

The menu consists of 14 different pintxos, and there is a tasting menu available with four pintxos and a main course – all at the discretion of the chef. One of the more delicate offerings on the menu is pintxo de foie con su cebolla confitada. It is a mixture of foie gras, raisins, honey and onion confit.

Though the menu is Spanish in nature, there are hints of French cuisine as well. Some of the other alternatives are the tartar de salmon del rio Bidasoa – a salmon tartar made with saffron oil, and txiperanos a lo pelayo, which is a cold calamari salad served on a slice of tomato.

“We try to keep the menu authentic, but we also want to make it a little unique and a little more accessible for all our clients,” said Lopez. The prices at Pintxo also make it accessible for diners on all budgets. The Pintxos range in price from $3 to $5, and the tasting menu is $28.

Lopez was born in Castilla Y Leon and immigrated with his parents to Montreal when he was two years old.

“I grew up eating a lot of Spanish food, but I don’t specifically have any of Mom’s specialties here. Alonso [the chef and co-owner], is the creator in the kitchen,” Lopez said.

Lopez has attempted to bring not only his native cuisine to Montreal, but also wines and spirits that come from his country. The wine list at Pintxo consists of only Spanish wines, many of which are private imports. “It is very difficult to keep my wine list up to date, because there are not many spanish wines that are accessible through the SAQ,” said Lopez.

Spain has the most land dedicated to vineyards in Europe, and is the second largest wine producer in the world: slightly less than France. But only a third of Spanish wine is exported, and mainly to European countries.

“I have to cultivate sources for Spanish wines. People in Spain don’t like to send it out of the country,” said Lopez.

Lopez will be attending a wine conference in Barcelona in March. “The conference takes place on a space of about two football fields. There are wineries from all different regions and wine export companies, and it is a great place to make contacts,” he said. “I also like going to these conferences because it helps me to find new trends and tendencies. I like to keep my wine list fresh and interesting.”

“The tasting menu can be fun not only for eaters, but drinkers as well,” said Lopez.

“Depending on the tastes and budget of the client, we can match wines for every course.”

The Spanish experience extends to the spirits available at Pintxo. “I have a lot of Spanish Sherries, or Jerez. Sherry is very popular in Spain; it is not quite so much here, but I think [it is] a bit of an undiscovered treasure,” said Lopez.

The stemware used to serve the many beverages are also reminiscent of Spain. Tall highball glasses with thick, heavy bases give the feel of a fiesta celebration.

Alonso Ortiz, chef and co-owner of Pintxo, emerges from the kitchen and starts a boisterous conversation in Spanish with Lopez about the evenings specials. This cozy restaurant filled with spanish foods, wines, smells and conversation could be anywhere along La Rambla in Barcelona, or along the beach in San Sebastian. Viva Espagna!

Pintxo is located at 256 Roy St. East.

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